AUBURN — A central New York health care clinic is exploring the purchase of city-owned property in Auburn to construct an affordable housing complex.
At Thursday's city council meeting, representatives from Helio Health pitched a concept to create affordable housing at 41-55 Washington St. — a property the city acquired in 1995 through foreclosure after a fire took out the former Dunn and McCarthy shoe factory.
Company representatives told the council they noticed a trend in Auburn residents and others from Cayuga County coming to Helio's Syracuse facilities for both in-patient and out-patient services.
"One of the things that we noticed about those folks is that when we're trying to return them to their home community, housing for them has been an issue," said Jeremy Klemanski, CEO of Helio.
Klemanski said the company doesn't normally visit governing bodies without site plans, but Thursday was a chance for the company to answer any initial questions regarding its proposal. Both government agencies and private partners would help fund the building's construction.
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So, why is a health care company looking to build affordable housing?
"We've learned that for the people we provide health services for, housing is critical for their long-term health," Klemanski said.
Klemanski and Vice President of Residential Development and Construction John Warren said a Helio facility in Auburn would provide permanent, affordable housing while offering medical services, day care and job placement assistance. This facility would not, however, be providing treatment of any kind.
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While he expressed interest in Helio's idea, Councilor Jimmy Giannettino was concerned about the potential impact on an Auburn project that's already received significant funding through the state's Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
Nick's Ride 4 Friends, an Auburn non-profit dedicated to fightting drug addiction, secured funding through the state grant to help establish a clubhouse that will further its prevention efforts. Job placement and retraining services will be included in these efforts. Joel Campagnola, president and founder of the organization, was also present at Thursday's council meeting.
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"I just want to make sure that the big guy is not going to swallow up the little guy," Giannettino said. "Mr. Campagnola and his board and this community have worked very hard when state and federal government has been absent to address these concerns in the community."
Helio responded by saying the people that would work at its proposed facility (an estimated two to five employees) wouldn't provide services to the general public. The company added that it wouldn't prohibit any services provided by Campagnola's organization and that there isn't any "economic benefit" in doing so.
A resolution regarding Helio's project is expected to be considered by the council next week.
In other news
• During a separate council presentation, Auburn Director of Municipal Utilities Seth Jensen reported that a number of suspicious algae blooms have been recorded on Owasco Lake, however none of them were confirmed as harmful ones. He added that about 20 resumes were submitted for an inspector position that would monitor the Owasco Lake watershed.